johno

RSI

RSI, or repetitive strain injury, is a serious condition that commonly affects those of us that spend long hours in front of a computer.

As a developer and designer I spend the vast majority of my time coding and writing. Programming in particular seems to cause me the most trouble. I suspect that it has something to do with reaching for the special characters on the keyboard for a language's syntax.

I've struggled with RSI often in the past and finally found a regimen that's allowed me to avoid RSI for two years now. So, I figured I'd share it. Pick and choose what you like.

This isn't meant to be a "prescription". We're all different and what works for me might not make sense for you. I'm not a doctor, either : )

Posture, posture, posture

It's important to keep good posture the entire time you're at your computer. This means that your desk and chair are at the proper height so your arms are parallel to the ground. This means your monitor is on a stand which allows you to keep your back and eye level straight. If you don't use a monitor I recommend getting a laptop stand so that your laptop's screen can be at the proper height.

I personally try to limit my time working from coffee shops to restrict the time I'm working in awkward positions.

Listen to your body

I've found that I begin to feel a slight stiffness, numbness, or soreness in my wrists before full RSI sets in. It's sort of like a warning from my body. When this happens, if I step away from my computer as much as possible for a few days, I can mitigate the symptoms and they'll go away.

Let your manager and coworkers know. They'll understand. If they don't it might be time to look for a new job. Three days away from your computer now is better than three weeks or more away next month.

This is easier said than done with looming deadlines, but by slightly changing workflows you can cut back on computer time.

  • Use Slack and email from your phone
  • Ask someone you're pairing with to drive
  • Walk around while you think
  • Use dictation or record yourself talking (this is great if you're writing a post or documentation)
  • Take video calls from your phone while standing

Also, if I spend an absurd amount of time working one week (60+ hours), I'll make sure I work substantially less that 40 hours the following week to offset my computer time.

Habits

After a few bouts of RSI I began regularly performing a few things, and avoiding a few things altogether.

Do

  • Avoid the mouse or trackpad
  • Stretch your forearms multiple times a day
  • Step away from the computer every hour
  • Batches of push ups, pull ups, and lunges each week (I have this scheduled in my calendar)

Don't

  • Work from the couch
  • Lean over your desk - I found I used to do this when thinking and bug hunting. It's like I thought being closer to the monitor will help me find it or something? 🤷‍♂️
  • Tuck your feet under your chair

Conclusion

Get away from your computer. Maintain good posture. Exercise.

I tried a few keyboards and mice, but ultimately found that I really only have a finite time I can work in front of the computer. When I exercise, I can extend that time, but only moderately.

This might seem extreme, especially focusing so much on rest, posture, and exercise, but it's the only thing I've found over the last decade to stop RSI symptoms from flaring up. The only real cure is rest.

Your mileage may vary.

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